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Season 1: TN university head shifts focus to online classes

Keith Carver, UT Martin Chancellor, responds from Tennessee

This interview took place on April 22, 2020.

With colleges having to pivot in the middle of the semester all over the world, reaching out to Dr. Keith Carver, chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin, was an obvious choice for an interview. Keith and I attended Memphis State University together nearly 30 years ago. Not only were we connected through the Sigma Chi Fraternity, but I knew the gal he ended up marrying from our days singing together at Kincaid Studios in Crockett County, Tennessee. Listen to how Keith is handling the COVID-19 situation.

Guest bio:

Dr. Keith Carver began his duties as is the 11th chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin on January 3, 2017. He has worked with the UT System for 22 years and served as executive assistant to the UT president from January 2011-December 2016 before taking the post at UT Martin.

Prior to his position with the UT System, Carver held various positions on the UT campuses in Knoxville, Martin, and Memphis, including serving as interim vice chancellor for development and alumni affairs at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis and as assistant vice chancellor for development at UT Martin. He holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Memphis, and a master’s degree in college student personnel and educational leadership as well as a doctoral degree from UT Knoxville.

Carver and his wife, Hollianne, are the parents of a daughter, Carson, and two sons, Jack Thomas (“J.T.”) and Britton. The Carver family lives in Martin and has West Tennessee roots in Henderson and Crockett counties.




Sally Hendrick (00:39):

Keith Carver, how are you doing?

Keith Carver (00:42):

I am doing great Sally. It's good to see you today.

Sally Hendrick (00:44):

Good to see you. So we go way back.

Keith Carver (00:48):

We go way back. We go way back to 1988 I believe.

Sally Hendrick (00:54):

Nice. Yeah, that's kind of scary. 1988 and then I left Memphis in 91. When did you leave Memphis?

Keith Carver (01:01):

I left Memphis in 92. I was a little slower than you.

Sally Hendrick (01:06):

Oh well I was just, you know, eager, eager to get out in the world. So tell me, what are you doing now?

Keith Carver (01:17):

Well, you know, I've been with the university of Tennessee for about two and a half decades in various roles. I worked on the Knoxville campus after graduation after, after we were together in Memphis. I went and got a master's degree and just kept working at UT, and, but in Knoxville, I've worked at UT campus in Memphis or UT campus in Martin? Prior went and worked for the UT system for awhile. University Tennessee system and have been chancellor at UT Martin since January of 2017. So starting my fourth year.

Sally Hendrick (01:55):

Yeah. Good. Awesome. That's great. And you're getting closer to your roots by living in West Tennessee again.

Keith Carver (02:05):

I am, you know, two counties over. I can get back and see lots of good friends in Crockett County and that's been, that's been great to reconnect. My wife Holly Ann is is from Lexington, Tennessee and so her family's close by, so it has been a homecoming of sorts. We've just been really good, Sally. I am feeling a little old though when I start recruiting grandchildren of friends from high, you know, friends from home and I realized that, you know, I'm creeping towards 50 myself. So I've got a, you know, I, I'm, I'm not as young as I feel.

Sally Hendrick (02:48):

I've got you beat. I'm already 50.

Keith Carver (02:52):

Oh well you know about better than I have.

Sally Hendrick (02:58):

Thanks. Well, and I know Holly Ann too, so we, we grew up singing together in Crockett County, so. Absolutely. So it's so good to talk with you. I've been wanting to get in touch with you for a while and this is the perfect opportunity because I've already been talking to like an independent college counselor. I also spoke with a student at UT Martin and for this podcast, for these interviews and talking with you is just coming full circle because I'm going to get this perspective from you of what's happening with the COVID-19 situation. Everything's turned on its end and we need to know what, what are you planning to do?

Keith Carver (03:50):

Absolutely. Well, you know, I think Sally, the, the, the most interesting piece, it is back in January, February the coronavirus was, was something really that was, was happening overseas. I mean, you certainly heard about incidence here, but as you, as you get into late February, mid February, early March, obviously cases being discussed here, but then I guess the tipping point is, is you heard about the situation in Washington state, you know, at this nursing home and, and all of a sudden we're starting to look locally as a, as a university, but also our region and state and at that point or any cases diagnosed here. But by I think the date that go down and you'd see Martin history was, was March 11th. We had a, at that point we had been already gotten through spring break to have a semester of classes and all of a sudden we see, you know, what things or things are accelerate being in, we're going to need to pivot quickly to remote learning.

Keith Carver (04:55):

At first we decided let's take three weeks off go online for three weeks. And then come back at a, at a time in April and then within four or five days saw, you know, what, we're going to need to be online the rest of the semester and the summer as well. And so things have happened really quickly. But I applaud our students, they've been persistent. They've been patient, they've been understanding. It's been really frustrating for them. I've come in to our faculty because many of them have not taught before prior to this on a remote and a remote access environment, online environment. And so we had about four days there where we offered crash courses online support, tech support, help them get up and, and they've, they've done their absolute best and I'm proud of them. And I'm really proud of our students for just saying, you know what, we're, we're going to try this. We've got to. And I think the hardest part is if you, if you knew, you know, in the summer you were going to have to do this, it would be different. But, but mid midstream is semester.

Keith Carver (06:10):

We went from a, from a 7,300 student residential environment to now just being sort of a central person personnel only. And I'm operating really on the majority of our folks are telecommuting. But I've, I've, you know, the story that's being written here is how we adapted and, and using technology. And I think the, the tasks we have before us is what does the fall like, we know the summer is going to be remote. How do we, how do we handle this incoming class in the fall? You know, are we prepared to begin in August? Are we do we need to go online for the fall or can we do a hybrid? Can we, can we start online and then October start welcoming folks back. And so those are the things that we're evaluating right now. And obviously at the forefront of all our discussions are just the, the safe and, and safety and wellness and health concerns of the UT Martin community and our students, faculty and staff. So that's sort of where we are right now.

Sally Hendrick (07:24):

So the question is, what does this mean as far as like future expansion now that you've put your foot in the water of the online world? You know, I don't know if you realize it, but I teach online. I teach a marketing and advertising online. I also do that for a living, but I've been teaching with online courses and zoom calls and live streams and all of these different mechanisms for several years now. So it seems like the opportunities could actually open up in a whole different direction if you are bringing this in.

Keith Carver (08:12):

You know, it, it has. And so for summer, our summer enrollments actually up in terms of full time enrollment we've got faculty who've never offered their courses online before saying, I'm gonna offer this this summer and students are responding. And so a couple of things there. Yes, I think we'll continue to expand what we've traditionally offered online. But I think the second piece of that is, is I think our, our folks, more of our people will become confident in being able to deliver an online content or a remote access platform. And, and so that's exciting. The second thing I've seen though is while I think we will branch out and, and get more aggressive and develop more, I think we also see that for so many students, the residential experience, it's really a great thing. And, and you know, just dealing with issues that pop up in life and the fact of having a roommate you can talk to or, or having a fraternity or sorority that you can do things with socially or you love, you love your foreign language in your Spanish club gets in a car and drives to Memphis to go see you know Hispanic theater production and those things that you do in groups I think have so much value to the out-of-class that enhances the in class experience.

Keith Carver (09:45):

So I really see UT Martin is continuing to be a hybrid doing those things on campus. The traditional residential college does that the things that you and I experienced when we were at Memphis, but also providing more opportunities online, whether it be a student at community college that wants to dip their toe in a, in a, in a history course at UT Martin or returning adult or working adult that wants to come back is, is really imagining what else could we be doing. And I think it's really, these obstacles have really stimulated a lot of creativity going forward. So I love the hybrid model of being able to offer both, which is fantastic.

Sally Hendrick (10:30):

Another thing that I was thinking about is that you could open up more community education like auditing classes, elderly people who want to audit classes, people who don't have the money to come live the college experience, but maybe they have a family and they're somewhere else and they don't have the ability to be in Martin on campus that there could be programs developed for people like that. That seems like something that would be really exciting because it really expands the opportunity and even going into the high schools and bringing up some of the, you know, a more developed or more mature children that want to get some college credits while they're in high school.

Keith Carver (11:16):

You know, you're, you're exactly right. The dual enrollment opportunities are there with these platforms. They're easy to use. They're not scary. We've been doing online education here since 1999 and it's changed quite a bit since then. And more people, let's pick more afraid of trying it both on the consumer side as well as the delivery side. And I do think the days where you know what, I don't want a degree, but boy, I would love to take these two HR classes and, and, and get a certificate or endorsement and conflict resolution. And can I do that? Or, you know what? I'm just have a history. I'm a history buff and a, I want to audit this history class and you know what? I'm in Jackson, but boy, I'd like to take dr coffee's civil war class. I don't want the grade, but I want the experience and, and so it opens up so many new doors and it's exciting.

Sally Hendrick (12:15):

That is exciting. So we can turn this bad, crazy, scary thing into something big and fun and explorative, you know, into the future. So all of that's good. But what about some of the challenges or the fears or obstacles that you're having to deal with? Do you have anything in particular?

Keith Carver (12:40):

You know, I think, I, I think just three things, just, just quickly. When obviously there's a such a safety concern. You've got people that want to come back to campus, but when you know, immediately you think of next Saturday May second and we were set to graduate 790 students. Well, even though the state the day before, it is reopening in a little bit. The CDC and the state as well doesn't want large groups of people. So you know, typically we'll have 4,500 people come back into an arena. Well we, we can't do that. So some of the, the pieces of a traditional college campus we're having to stop graduation being the being the first alumni events and gathering, large-scale gathering. And that kind of creeps into the second obstacle. And you know, if we're not able to have groups on campus, there's a revenue piece to that summer camps.

Keith Carver (13:55):

You know, whether it be large statewide, four H groups that come here later, camps from, from five States come here, that sort of thing. So there are few opportunities for revenue for a college campus and some are in, in, in camps and programs are a huge piece of that. The final piece is just the safety aspect. You know, you want our students to feel like this is a, a, a safe place to be in terms of their physical health. But the truth is if you start bringing people back to campus too soon if we were to, to, to welcome 1400 freshmen on, on May 1st you know, that, that's probably not the wise thing to do in an in person format. Because you're getting people from all the globe, all over the state, all over the country coming back. And so making sure that even though we're missing some of these traditional camp activities, we're missing things like graduation, keeping health and safety in the forefront and making some, some sacrifices now so that we can all be together. So there's health concerns, there's, there's financial concerns and then sort of those just student student satisfaction things, things you normally do during the year that we're just not getting to do.

Sally Hendrick (15:27):

Well, my nephew is graduating on May the second from UT Martin.

Keith Carver (15:32):

I was, I was exotic. You had some, you had some family coming in and with overnight reservations here that they had to cancel.

Sally Hendrick (15:40):

Yes, that is true. We were coming to town and we were going to celebrate together after the graduation. Now we're going to watch the Facebook live I hear,

Keith Carver (15:52):

Right, right. It'll be Epic. It's special. It's real special program. If it's gotta be virtual, we're going to pull out all the staffs and make it unique and hopefully get that group back together in August for an in person if we're allowed. But certainly celebrating that class in person at some point. But Sally, we thought it was critical that on graduation day, let's confer those degrees.

Sally Hendrick (16:18):

Yeah, let's do that. And I will be watching.

Keith Carver (16:21):

Yeah, I'll try not to mess that up.

Sally Hendrick (16:25):

Well, I'm hoping that afterwards we'll have some sort of family zoom gathering. I may have to you know, administer that myself and invite everybody in since that's my field of expertise.

Keith Carver (16:39):

Exactly right. I try your planner,

Sally Hendrick (16:42):

Have a planner and I, and I'm great at zoom and I add all those things. So

Keith Carver (16:48):

That's exactly right.

Sally Hendrick (16:50):

All right. Well, is there anything else that you'd like to add that you think is important to know at this time?

Keith Carver (16:56):

You know, I, I think what it's done another piece of this that we're still figuring out and I think if colleges are honest, we're all still figuring out is how we know how to support students when they're here. And we can see it and touch them. It's harder to help a student who's struggling with a class, or that's homesick that needs some that's got a, that's got a, a conflict in their life that needs some help with. And, and how can you provide wellness, nutrition, mental health help in a remote environment. And so we're learning as we go. And, and while I think technology is great for instruction, I think all of us are still figuring out what's the best way to really connect with someone, whether it's tele-counseling, those sort of things to help your college students grow personally heal when they're hurting and wounded.

Keith Carver (17:57):

And I think technology allows you to do that. We just in a, in a residential experience institution like UT Martin, we haven't had to do that. And so businesses have been doing that for years. You know, working with working with clients, we're going to get better and, and connecting. And I think our faculty are again doing a great job or you know, we're calling students every day. We're communicating them, not just with them in this virtual world but actually getting them on the phone, that sort of thing. But I think we're going to be better at connecting to all of our students as a result of this. Because that's, you know, we're in education cause we're in the people business and I think that's been important.

Sally Hendrick (18:41):

That's very important. And we're experiencing a similar thing with a high schooler. We still have a high schooler at home and we're dealing with a lot of the kids were getting very overwhelmed in the first few weeks of this online school happening, just having to transition in the middle of this semester. And so the teachers all had to kind of back up a little bit and be like, okay, we're missing something here and we've got to address this because there is an emotional and a mental health aspect of this. There's a traumatic aspect to this. So that's got to be addressed and looked at and you know, and nurtured. So I appreciate you saying that and adding that at the end. Cause I think that's very important all across the board.

Keith Carver (19:36):

It's really important. It's really important. And, and, and, you know, it's evolving. We're getting better at it, we're figuring it out. We're, we're hearing from our students what they need right now and, and we're responding. So I think everyone's really learning from this. And but I will go on record as saying, I hope we don't have to repeat it anytime soon.

Sally Hendrick (19:56):

Yeah, I agree. I don't either. And I don't want to have to wear a mask every time I walked out the door and go to the store.

Keith Carver (20:04):

Oh yeah. I miss going and sitting at my coffee shop and and reading my newspaper, you know, things I, that I took for granted. Just you know, 30 days ago.

Sally Hendrick (20:14):

I agree. I agree. I have the same thing. Well, thank you so much, Keith. I really appreciate you coming on here with me and sharing your story and what's going on in the college world, a university world with, with our listeners.

Keith Carver (20:30):

Well, happy to do it. Thank you so much, and all your listeners just stay safe and healthy.

Sally Hendrick (20:36):

Okay. Thank you so much.

Keith Carver (20:37):

You bet. Bye bye.

Sally Hendrick (20:38):


Sally Hendrick (20:46):

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